I would often find myself forcing inspiration, or at least expecting some form of it to come to me and somehow fall into my hands. I spent my holidays feeding off the inspiration of others, who seemed to find it with a natural ease; almost as if they’d had it since birth just like they had found the involuntary ability to eat, drink and excrete.
I’d create something; a jagged poem adapted from the words of great artists, or a drawing that would begin to lose its way if I didn’t follow every single line of the already-illustrated image in front of me.
And sometimes, it made me miserable; that a mind that’s so alive with thought, and that conjured the most far-fetched vivid dreams, couldn’t produce a single original thought that had no origin in something already known, seen or read.
I recall as a child sitting in the backseat of my Mum’s 1993 Hyundai Sonata, about to state something of great importance (or at least I thought it was at the time) and for the first time my clear, sponge-like mind let go of it, and I was unable to remember my words. This frustrated me greatly, and I’ve had the image in my head ever since of a tall brick wall I knew my lost words hid behind.Unbeknownst to me then, this image would become significant again each time I sat down to create. All my ideas, all my potential – hid behind that wall.
In dreams, I formulated colours and scenes that I swear I’ve never witnessed with my own eyes before. I’m driving down a street in Gisborne, my home town, and to my right are a lion and tiger in battle on the big hill you see when you first come in from the freeway.
Watching, fascinated people filled an old-school white Merc that was adorned with beautiful red, pink and orange flowers of immense size on its bonnet. They all seemed very entertained by this act, but I was unable to observe more of the scene as the anonymous driver next to me continued on.
Eventually, in this usually mundane suburban street, a parade was thundering towards us led by rearing zebras. Their manes were meticulously braided and fashioned in a way so their hair fanned out like Mohawks. Men were banging drums wearing pinstripe suits and tall red hats. I would awake with the same questions – where did it all come from? And why was it not showing through my creativity?
I could go on about the many realistic dreams that fill my nights; ones involving a sleeping black panther, a man walking through an underpass in a koala costume carrying a noose, a beach buggy ride, the streets of Istanbul with the bluest skies (and when I looked up to it, a tradesman threw up ropes and cords that fell down slowly in this beautiful way). I dreamt I touched a girl with the most severe anaphylaxis in the world, and rather than saving her, I instead sent her to her death with my contaminated hands and I awoke with a heavy conscience.
The thing is, these dreams are the realest creations I’d formed and before falling asleep all of these unique stories and images were whirling around in some abyss on the furthest shelf of my brain. It seemed to me the more vividly I dreamt the more difficult it was to inspire my awakened self and once again, I’d be drawing daisies in the margins.
In class one day we spoke about memory, and how we need to build a ‘library’ of knowledge through storing information and stories in our environment so that they come alive in our work. I sat there listening to others speak about their recollections and I couldn’t help but feel that brick wall arise again in my mind. I knew that despite my youthful age of 19, I had seen, felt, tasted, heard and smelt a world of things.
The environments in my dreams were the playground for all my unmasked memories, joys, fears and emotions and they were compiled from things I had not consciously retained. But they were all fragments part of this entire picture in my mind that I just couldn’t seem to piece together.
My classmate beside me spoke – and told us that dementia was caused by the hardening of the brain, thus forcing messages and memories to bounce back and forth without actually being processed. I couldn’t help but feel this happening to me every time I’d attempt to create; it became more like an impossible challenge than an outlet or something I enjoyed.
But I didn’t have dementia, there wasn’t anything wrong, and I certainly wasn’t ‘too young’ or ‘inexperienced’ to have valuable ideas. I knew that as any human is generally, I was being too critical of myself, only oppressing my potential further. I also knew that my mind held more than just this dumb old brick wall.
Just having to turn up to class and use my brain every day in ways I didn’t in everyday life I could see myself and my abilities being projected into a network of people all there to make something of their creativity.
I came to realise that what I had formed in my dreams, the window-less, door-less city I walked through so often, the long stretching desert road, the empty carwash; these stories and places were built by me. I, too, had built the dreaded brick wall years ago. I’d just never knocked it down.
Suddenly in dreams, the city had windows and doors and the streets were filled with people passing by. I was driving down a suburban street towards my childhood home where children played. Even the carwash was back in business. I realised that the ease I found in creating whilst asleep came from a lack of fear, disbelief and expectations that I didn’t have in my awakened state.
Everything I had the potential to be was being stolen away by my own criticism, making me unmotivated to exercise my passion and only instilling it, along with great envy, in the creations of others. After all, I could only create what I expected of myself.
Just to clarify, I never ‘found’ inspiration; I just accepted its absence and knew I was unable to locate it. Creation just happens, we are inspired daily merely by the coincidence of light or a winter sky, and those experiences seem to overlap and shape our perspectives as creative people. Spending my holidays at home with my own company led me to these thoughts and I was tired of letting my critical-self take over and diminish possibilities.
Honestly, I began this piece seeing that same brick wall, but instead of crawling back into my ever-so-comfortable shell, I sought to break it down and see what it had shielded from my view.
It just seemed to work, I see truth in these words and although there are faults, they are my own.
We are taught, it seems, to see the world with a critical eye, on the eternal search for perfection – but we never come to think that maybe our perspectives are the problem. I realise now that I never thought what I sought was behind the wall, but god, I’m glad I tried to find it.
(The world really does look beautiful from here.)